"Sal, we gotta go and never stop going 'till we get there". "Where we going man?" "I don't know but we gotta go" - Jack Kerouac, On the Road -

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 18: In the shadow of the mountains

Gillette, Wy - Sheridan, Wy: 133 miles. Total: 2206 miles

I have a sleepless night: dreams trouble my sleep and of all the things I am dreaming about today's ride. When I wake up I am disappointed that I am still in the hotel and not in Sheridan where my dream had me and where I should be tonight. At breakfast I top my fuel tank with at least a thousand calories. This is my biggest meal of the day, I don't eat much during the ride, the physical strain does not make me too hungry anyway. Dinners are also impressive feasts by anybody's standards but it is at breakfast that I do my worst.

Today should be exciting, if everything goes according to plan tonight I should be at the foothill of the mountains. But before I get there I have a test: the road from here to Sheridan is exposed to the elements, for the first 70 miles there are no services, nothing in the way of water or food. I am carrying an extra bottle of water with me which adds weight but by now I am accustomed to the strain. I love the desert, I love cycling in the middle of nowhere, the only worry comes from the fact that a serious mechanical failure might occur. So what? I'll fix it.

Yesterday Gillette was a town bustling with life and this morning, at 7.15 I hardly run into cars at all. I take highway 14 which goes north and then west. After a few miles into the wind it is pretty much clear that I am in the middle of nowhere. The last urban presence of Gillette quickly fade and I am looking at vast expanses of land with nothing in it. The scenery takes on a 'west feel', rugged land with occasional dry bushes that spring out here and there and the yellow fields everywhere I look. I don't see any trees and the creeks are totally dried up. The 62 miles to Clearmont are very exposed, with continuous ups and downs and I am riding into the wind, which intensifies as the day wears on. Also, like part of the ride yesterday, many miles of road have cracks that cause butt-jarring bumps every 20 yards or so. Yes, I do love the desert but this morning biking is not pleasant. I spot grasshoppers everywhere, Wyoming must be the grasshopper home state or something, and today, aside from the occasional truck and other vehicles I must have been their primary predator. These little ugly things inflict a lot of damage to the crops so I hope I made a little contribution to the protection of the crops.

The road is pretty much everything that there is, a sorry-looking rusting barbwire connects crooked wooden sticks by both sides of the road, behind it the hills covered in scrubs and dry bushes. The land becomes concave at times suggesting that a rushing creek once was but it is not more. Cattle graze lazily in the areas where grass is still available. Every few miles a dusty gravel road departs from the highway and leads into the hill looking like a squiggly tan line on the hillsides until it disappears from sight and ends god knows where. I dodge a few pieces of broken tires and a few dead deers most of them have already mauled by vultures or other animals, the stench of decay lingers in the air for at least 50 yards. The ride is almost monotonous but the headwind and the cracks on the pavement make sure that it is never completely dull.

I pass Spotted Horse, which is a collection of two or three abandoned shack houses and a closed bar. There is a sign inside the bar window which says population: 2. It's gotta be the less populous place on earth.  I stop to sip some water and the only noise I hear is the wind which rattles the flimsy tin shacks and whistles through the rusted-out cars and pickups that just lie there as a souvenir of a life of a long, long time ago when they were used by god knows who. This air of desolation makes me feel no emotion at all, I look at the dead place blankly thinking about a million other things instead but as I adjust the water bottle into its holder I realize that my mind is set on the Rockies. That's all I am thinking about, that's all I want. I push on into a stubborn headwind which does not seem to diminish any time soon. After at least 20 miles without seeing a vehicle I trudge into Clearmont and stop at the gas station. The lady behind the counter is buried in makeup and wears so much lipstick that I think it might drip off her face me. She is making a cheeseburger sandwich. I cannot help it and I ask: who is that for? She quickly replies: For the customers. What customers?! I am thinking but I don't dare say. When she says: today it's too hot to ride uh? I know that our conversation won't go much further. I eat a chocolate chip cookie so sweet that I can taste the sugar with my nose. I am happy to leave the lady to her burger sandwiches and her hopes for a busy day.

The road drops into a valley where a creek offers some vegetation to its shores and after a few miles the road climbs up a plateau and that's when I see them for the first time: the Rocky Mountains. They appear in a dark gray-blue light and most of the tops are shrouded in the clouds, and I can only see a faint outline through the haze, but there isn't any doubt as to what I'm looking at. After a very tough and long morning worrying about the wind and the messed up road surface, adrenaline comes rushin back and seeing the beautiful mountains in the distance makes the headwind turn into a magic tailwind (I wish!). As I ride toward them I don't think about how majestic they are, or how tough it will be to cross them, I just think that I have reached another significant milestone for the trip.

I power thorough the miles with renewed eagerness under a sky that becomes a bizarre mix of bright blue patches amid clouds of white, gray and black. After a few minutes a drizzle erupts but before I can start yelling my best curse words at the weather I realize that the black patch is moving south so I could out-pedal the rain, which I do within two miles. Phew! That was a close one, on my left, departing from the top of the mountain a heavy chunky of black cloud looks very ominous and I wouldn't want to mess with it. The miles fly under my wheels and I enter the busy town of Sheridan at 2.30 having cranked up 110 miles at 16.2 mph with a headwind and a very hilly terrain. Not bad at all my boy, I whisper to myself. I feel really strong and calling it a day now feels like a waste so standing by the side of a gas station I gulp down two protein shakes and I look at the GPS for inputs. I decide that I will try to reach Dayton, a small town into the mountains where there should be two motels. The road could be very hilly and I don't know how far it is from Sheridan exactly, can't be more than 40 miles I figure, so why not? I take country road 331 which veers west from downtown and heads straight for the base of the hills in front of me. The sky clears almost completely and even the wind seems to have retreated a little. However, my plan goes awry after 9 miles when the pavement ends. I have no choice but to double back and return to Sheridan. At this point, a little discouraged by the failed attempt to tackle the first slopes of the Rockies I decide to take it easy, I find a Super 6 on the north side of town where a hot shower is my first call of the evening. 133 miles and it is not even 4.30PM. I have a feeling that I could have planned this day better, there is plenty of gas left in the tank. Never mind. I don't know if I am getting a little overconfident but the body feels good and the bike runs smoothly so why should I be conservative now? It is true that these are the Rocky Mountains and not the Appalachians, steep hills and sudden changes in the weather can turn your day into a very challenging situation. But hey! I have had that plenty in my life so I can deal with a little water among the hills (smile intended here).

I will get out of here early tomorrow morning and if the weather is on my side will go for a long day. On my way to the grocery store I throw a glance at the dark-blue jagged line of the mountains. I'm supposed to be climbing the Granite Pass tomorrow, at 9700 ft it should be really something. Just a few more hours baby. Try to rest now.

 Gillette, 7.15 am saturday morning

 Spotted Horse, Wy

 Do you see the dark line up above? That's the Rocky Mountains..

 Downtown Sheridan, Wy

Books on display at a bookstore in Sheridan


  1. The picture with just the dark line of the Rockies in the distance is worth studying. It is like the mountains are hiding behind that veil of haze, waiting for you to get closer so that you are stunned by their enormity when they finally do reveal themselves. Enjoy your ride through them.

  2. Flew out to San Francisco this morning and grabbed a window seat to see if I could see you out there, needless to say I did not. Maybe next time. Anyways, really liked this installment that you posted. You're feeling so strong you can out run the rain. The photo of Spotted Horse population 2 cracked me up. Had you spent the night there they would have had to update the sign. Hope all is going well. You are making great progress. With you in spirit everyday.